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Lesson 5.3 - Transposition

Workbook (NEW for 2021) with answers HERE

Or download a printable worksheet with answers
as a member of MusicOnline UK
for this lesson HERE

Up until now you have only had to transpose a melody up or down an octave. There are many Orchestral Instruments which are called transposing instruments. This means that they play things at a different pitch to what they read. For example, a French Horn would read the note "E" but be playing an "A" in what we call concert pitch. This all sounds a bit complicated and daunting but if you follow a few simple rules it is not that bad. 

  1. Firstly you will be told in the exam how far to transpose the melody for a given transposing instrument (you don't have to work that bit out yourself), for example up a perfect fifth or down a minor third.
  2. Next you need to transpose your key signature. If you were told to transpose everything down a minor 3rd and you were given a key signature of A flat major, you write the key signature a minor third down from A flat, that is F major. 
  3. Then simply write each note an interval of a third lower than what you are given. You don't really have to worry about the "minor" bit of minor 3rd, because the key signature should take care of that.
  4. Where there are accidentals - if the given note has been raised or lowered then you need to do the same to the transposed note.

Consider this example:

Applying points 1-4 above:

  1. You are told to transpose down a perfect 5th
  2. Transpose the key signature (in this case C major) down a 5th to become F major
  3. Write each note a 5th lower
  4. Account for any accidentals, so for example, the F sharp in the 3rd bar has been raised from the original, so you need to  raise  the corresponding note in the transposed version. In this case a B flat is raised to a B natural.

Sometimes you might be asked to transpose  without  a key signature. In this case

....pretend you're in C major out your new transposed key (in the above example - F major)

.... instead of using a key signature just keep the accidentals of your new transposed key in your mind. In the above example it will be F major, i.e. a B flat.

This is how the answer will look for a question that asks you to transpose without a key signature

Most questions will require you however to change and use a key signature.

Practice this topic with our workbook
"Music Theory Practice - A Complete Course"
New for 2021 


  1. When the French Horn reads E but plays A, is that at a higher pitch?

  2. When the French Horn plays the E, is the sound produced at a higher register?


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